It’s not easy being Chevy’s green machine |

It’s not easy being Chevy’s green machine

Special to the DailyThe 2005 Chevy Silverado Extended Cab 4WD Hybrid gets 17 mpg in the city and 19 on the highway.

After getting adjusted to first-generation hybrid prototypes such as the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius, it’s hard to imagine a tough-as-nails beast like a stump-pulling, half-ton 4×4 pickup in quite the same technologically advanced, fuel-saving category. Hey, could a hybrid Hummer be far behind?Chevrolet has upped the ante with its hybrid Silverado truck, demonstrating that even the biggest and brawniest of vehicles can share in both the innovation and potential fuel economy offered by gas-electric hybrid motors.

The new extended cab Silverado, a full-sized, five-passenger hauling machine with a six-and-a-half-foot long bed, a torquey 5.3 liter Vortec V8 and the added safety of shift-on-the-fly 4×4, is absolutely identical to its regular gas-powered counterparts (with the possible exception of a pair of 120 volt electrical outlets stashed in the cargo box).Under the hood, Chevrolet has added a 14-kilowatt, electric-induction motor and torque converter, which quietly starts (and silences, then re-starts) the engine during moments of flat automotive power consumption. During our time on the road, that meant the occasional hybrid-style engine brown-out while stuck in traffic or idling while dropping off a return at the video rental store. Park it in your backyard with the engine running and the engine will quietly shut off; step on the brake or even open the doors and the motor will spark back to life with a slight shudder.

The Silverado’s hybrid operation was quite a bit different than our recent experience in the more fully hybrid-integrated Ford Escape. During the course of our test, the Silverado’s hybrid system only kicked in once or twice during motoring, whereas a light-on-the-pedal Escape driver might be able to keep his or her vehicle exclusively in full electric mode during urban jaunts. As a result, Chevrolet is only promising a 13 percent fuel savings over its traditional gas-powered Silverado. Those hoping to save the earth’s precious resources may be a bit disappointed by the big Chevy’s numbers – the truck generated an overall average of about 16 miles per gallon during our drives – and sadly, it sometime seemed like the only truly green thing about the Silverado Hybrid was our tester’s nearly fluorescent John Deere-style paint job.

Rather than tree-huggers, the Silverado Hybrid will probably attract purchasers keen on the truck’s electrically charged side-effect: three valve-regulated lead-acid batteries, hidden in a bank under the rear bench seat, form an energy storage module that allows the truck to be used as a mobile electrical generator. The Silverado’s hybrid system was apparently developed initially for military use and General Motors was quick to deploy several of its Silverado Hybrids to hurricane-torn Florida last year to help in areas that had lost electrical power.Contractors – or dedicated tailgate party masters – will appreciate the versatility of the Silverado’s box-mounted, fully grounded 120 volt outlets, with another pair of outlets accessible in the back seat of the cab. Power a drill, run a boombox or do what you will with all of that portable juice; no need to haul a generator with you again.

Add it up and it’s a pricey combination for electrical power or some limited fuel savings. The fully equipped Silverado (coming in at $37,040) was certainly a comfortable, versatile vehicle that never suffered because of its hybrid powerplant. Cruising was smooth and powerful – takeoffs were actually pretty good, thanks to the 295 horsepower tag-team under the hood – and in heavy-duty situations, the 335 pound feet of torque came in mighty handy. We dare you to pull a tree stump out of your yard with a tow rope and a Honda Insight, something the Silverado did in a snap.The Silverado packs plenty of driver and passenger comforts, as well, including leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a superb Bose stereo system with built-in XM Satellite Radio, plus loads of room for you and your passengers. You also get dual-zone air conditioning; power locks, windows and mirrors; OnStar; and an easy-to-use 4×4 system (shift-on-the-fly or fully automatic modes). A gigantic storage bin in the center console will hold work radios and surveying tools; we were also glad to see chunky floormats as a standard offering.

Looks are also pleasantly contemporary, with chrome bumper and grille highlights, a stacked headlight cluster, rounded tail lights and a handy plastic scratch guard on the top of the tailgate. Large side mirrors also made the Silverado reasonably easy to navigate, although it’s a full-sized truck through and through (a 143-inch wheelbase and 228 inches of total length make parallel parking a challenge, to say the least).The 2005 Silverado Hybrid is available in limited quantities on the West Coast for its first model year but should be ready for consumers everywhere later this year.

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